For the last few months, policymakers have debated one another on the importance of reopening schools this fall. Facts supporting both sides of the arguments have been intentionally misrepresented, selectively being used to demand one solution rather than another. While this has been happening, schoolchildren have been suffering, growing older and falling further behind in their education.
The Start of the Debate
In the early stages of the pandemic, school closures were seen as a necessity to lessen the spread of the Coronavirus. Preventing the overwhelming of medical systems all around the country was the primary concern early in the spring, and school closures likely helped lessen the initial spread. Schools first began to shut down due to directives from their local governments. Cities like Los Angeles and New York City shut down their school districts before any statewide orders, but the shutdowns eventually began to be enforced by the state governments themselves.
Almost immediately, school districts began to plan for transitions to online classes, while others shut down indefinitely. In Los Angeles, private and public schools found the transition to online courses difficult, with many students reporting that they did not have access to reliable internet connections and felt they were learning less. Families now had to decide to either continue working their essential jobs, or stay home to watch the children and hope that their unemployment checks would cover their cost of living.
Soon after families had to make these critical decisions very quickly, the debate began. Some states and mayors within them began to plan for school closures to the end of the year, while others insisted that schools must open in the fall. President Trump chimed in later and argued that schools needed to reopen for the wellbeing of all students. The data seemed to show that students were missing out on essential developmental factors like socialization, physical exercise, and even proper nutrition from being out of school. Many began to question whether continuing to set students even further behind so drastically was worth it.
The Debate Morphs
Data from educators stressed the importance of reopening schools, and in an unlikely scenario, health organizations began to suggest the same. The CDC recommended schools reopen as quickly as possible, noting that while COVID-19 spread just as quickly among students, its harmful effects were minimal compared to its impact on the elderly and would encourage herd immunity. Critics immediately jumped on this announcement, arguing that it was much too early to reopen schools while a second wave was hitting many states throughout the country. Ultimately, supporters of school reopenings believe that society needs to gradually return to normal and accept that the virus will impact our lives regardless. Still, critics of the reopenings believe that life needs to be put on hold to prevent as many deaths as possible.
Throughout the country, states are deciding for themselves how and when they should reopen schools. States that have already experienced the worst of the pandemic like New York are urging schools to open with the proper safety precautions. Other states that were hit hardest in the last two months, like California, have pushed for schools to stay closed and online-only indefinitely. Controversy has already been sparked in various school districts. In Atlanta, Georgia, the school punished a student for taking pictures of a crowded hallway. When it comes to public policy, it’s a matter of comparing benefits to risks and making a decision based on the data – what does the information suggest in this case?